A Heading Test

Ian McAnerin surprised me by making the following statement:

If you take an image, then add in ALT text, then surround the image with an H1 – it's H1 text. Feel free to check any text only browser (including the Google text only cache). I've tested it, it's not theory.

Testing

Despite my trust of Ian's knowledge and experience, this is something I need to see for myself. I have no intention of abusing the tag by attempting to put something in the alt attribute of the image other than the image's content itself, however. While that would probably serve as a control for the test, it could also be deemed spam, and I don't think I want to use my principal domain to see how much spamming I can get away with. What I am willing to try is what you see here: I have two images of text wrapped in header tags — one H1 and one H2. I have set the alt attributes of those images to equal the text on the images, and will see if they are treated as headings containing the alt text in text-based browsers.

Upon publishing the page, I tested it in the SEO Browser tool. The alt attributes of the images are formatted as first and second level headings, but they are also wrapped in brackets, indicating that they're images and their alt attributes are being displayed. I'll have to wait until the page is indexed to see how the search engines treat it.

Update – 30 August 2006

As of today, this page is coming up at the following rankings for searches on the alt attribute of the top heading/image, both with and without quotation marks:

Google

Yahoo

The page is not indexed by Yahoo.

MSN

Note: the page is cached by MSN.

Ask

The page is not indexed by Ask.

Update – 9 June 2007

The page is now indexed by all of the major search engines: GoogleYahooMSNAsk. Here are the results of some tests. Note that "N/A" indicates that the page was not found in the top 100 results.

Keyword Google Yahoo MSN Ask
Alt attribute of heading in quotes 1 N/A N/A 9
Alt attribute without quotes 11 N/A N/A N/A
Alt attribute in quotes, limited to this domain 1 N/A N/A 1

It would appear that neither Yahoo nor MSN are indexing the alt attribute of the image, or at least that they don't return it as relevant to a search.

Update – 19 February 2008

Keyword Google Yahoo MSN Ask
Alt attribute of heading in quotes 1 N/A N/A 9
Alt attribute without quotes 2 N/A N/A N/A
Alt attribute in quotes, limited to this domain 1 N/A N/A 1

Update – 14 October 2008

Keyword Google Yahoo MSN Ask
Alt attribute of heading in quotes 1 N/A N/A 1
Alt attribute without quotes 2 N/A N/A 1
Alt attribute in quotes, limited to this domain 1 N/A N/A 1
Alt attribute without quotes, limited to this domain 1 1 1 1

When I ran the third search in Yahoo this time, I got the following result:

We did not find results for: "[search term]" site:raisemyrank.com. Try the suggestions below or type a new query above.
Also Try: [search term] site:raisemyrank.com (quotes removed)

As you can see above, all four engines returned the page at #1 for that search, so my note from June 2007 indicating that it didn't look like Yahoo or MSN were indexing the image's alt attribute was (or at least is now) incorrect.